U.S. Marines deployed to Afghanistan report that more children and teenagers are used by the Taliban in battle, some as young as 3 years old. USA Today reports that children are used as human shields, sent to plant roadside bombs or as drug dealers, all under the instruction of the Taliban. “We’ve seen children actually dropping mortar rounds in the (firing) tubes against us,” Lt. Col. Michael Manning, commander of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, told the newspaper. Marines in the northern district of Helmand province have made 50 battlefield reports of children being used in combat since March, 2010.
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The trend is reminiscent of the child soldiers used throughout Africa in the early 2000s, or the thousands of children still believed to be active in the military in Sri Lanka. U.S. soldiers told USA today they believe families are coerced by the Taliban into giving up their children for military use, with teens offered money or gifts in exchange for service. “It’s a recruitable, very easily influenced group of people,” one solider told USA today. “And there’s tons of them.”